It turned out I needed some downtime after Machu Picchu. I hung around Cuzco for 2 days and did very little, which is usually hard for me when traveling. I didn't go see ruins or museums or take notes about churches. I slept and did laundry and had dinner with my trekking friends and went to the highest Irish pub on the planet.
Then I headed to a small town in the Sacred Valley to visit an organization that helps and houses street kids from Lima. It was in this gorgeous restored hacienda in a rural river valley. There are 30 kids aged about 5-16 that all go to school together, sleep in dorms, do chores, play music, and do their homework together. It's an amazing project, and all the kids were so polite and vibrant and focused. They didn't have to be told anything, after dinner some just started cleaning right up while while others went to get schoolwork, and they settled comfortably into that rhythm of people working together and enjoying what they're doing. One little boy showed me the horses, as well as the ripe prickly pears, and demonstrated which varieties of fava beans sink in the pond and which ones float.
Have I mentioned how much I love set lunches? Most restaurants have a menu of the day, or Menú, and you usually get to pick between a couple soups and a few entrees, and they can be anywhere from 3-10 soles, or $1-$3.50. Yesterday I found this vegetarian place with a freakin salad bar! In all of my Latin America travels, I have NEVER seen a salad bar at a local place. I was so excited about all the raw vegetables I was willing to take my chances with the lettuce. Then this really good polenta veggie soup came next, with whole wheat bread (also very rare). Then this sort of Indian garbanzo bean dish with rice and SWISS CHARD. Yes, I am really missing green vegetables.
Cuzco was good to me, but I was ready to leave. It's a beautiful town, though can also start to be stiffling and gringofied after too long. As one girl I met on the coast a few weeks ago said (quite distainfully), "It's like the Disneyland of Peru."
So I headed out on the 22 hour bus ride, again. Only this time, we broke down in the middle of the night, and were on the side of the highway for about 4 hours. It was cold in the mountains with the motor off. But when we (FINALLY!) arrived in Lima, it was back to the sweltering heat of the coast. It feels like being in a New York subway in July, the air is so thick and urban.
And I met Peruvian family! Well, the family of an uncle by marriage, but I think that counts. So Ada is my great-aunt's sister-in-law, but with how excited she was to meet me, you'd think I was a long-lost daughter. This woman Ada is a ball of love and intensity, with a deep hoarse smoker's voice that is half caring, and half scary. When I told her I was traveling around South America alone, and taking buses from Ecuador to Argentina, she pounded the table top and howled with incredulous laughter- "Hah! My brother calls me crazy, but you're even more crazy!" "Eres mas loca que yo!!!" We played with her 2 adorable granddaughters, both just over a year old, and ate lunch. She made me promise I would come visit again and stay longer when I pass through Lima again. Man, with that voice and those eyes, there was no way I could say no.
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